Pokemon Go Nuzlocke, aka GOlocke!

For the past three months I’ve had the pleasure of following Dael Kingsmill’s project, GOlocke. Her project aim was to create a workable set of rules, reflective of the original Pokemon Nuzlocke ruleset, and compatible with the mechanics and conditions afforded by the Pokemon Go experience.

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For more about “Pokemon Hard Mode”, check out the comics here

The term ‘Nuzlocke’ is a portmanteau of the pokemon Nuzleaf and the name Locke, due to the challenge inventor’s comic Nuzleaf resembling the character John Locke from the TV series Lost.

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(definitely some intertextuality considering the contents of the speech bubble)

In order to present the ruleset in public, as per the stipulations of the digital artefact, Dael made an ongoing series of episodes documenting her progress performing the rules in Pokemon Go gameplay. The series is linked below.

Her intention was to have YouTube’s creative propensity for meme-ability demonstrate Bell and Sterneberg’s theory of “emotional selection”. The hallmark of the Nuzlocke ruleset as played in traditional Pokemon games is the player’s tendency to develop emotional connections with the pokemon. This is through dedication to one pokemon per area and the risk of it “dying”, as stipulated in the rules.

Dael’s project trajectory nevertheless endured many evolutions and hardships for various reasons. Her initial ruleset is as follows:

1. If a Pokemon faints you must transfer it to Professor Willow
2. You may only utilise Pokemon hatched from eggs (capturing wild Pokemon is allowed for the purposes of candy and stardust but they must be transferred to the professor
3. You may only carry 9 Pokemon at any given time
4. The preliminary win condition for this prototype is to reach level 20

Rule #1 is the equivalent of the Nuzlocke “releasing fainted pokemon” rule. This is the simplest part of the ruleset to translate from original game series to Pokemon Go.

However, the conditions afforded by Pokemon Go’s mechanics made it very difficult for Dael to match the experience of the original Nuzlocke. There are no clear “areas” equal to that of the original game experience. Pokemon Go has 5 clearly defined regions and a region-exclusive pokemon only available to users logged in that specific GPS location. There are 146 pokemon available to any player regardless of location, with minor variations of spawn location depending on proximity to water features. The most similar method of picking pokemon is by relying on the egg incubation element. An egg can be acquired from a pokestop and incubated by walking an approximate distance of 2, 5 or 10 km and will hatch a pokemon based on RNG from a certain selection. A player may only possess 9 eggs at a given time, which is how Dael arrived at rule #3.

As part of her video production, Dael recorded vlog-style face cam in tandem with screencapturing the gameplay on her phone. Whenever she hatched a new pokemon, she would draw a cartoon of that pokemon and position it along the bottom of the face cam portion of her videos. While Dael expressed the inability to form the same kind of emotional connection with her pokemon in GOlocke, I feel that these little cartoons and her nicknames for each pokemon went a long way to make up for that, if not for her than definitely for the viewers of the YouTube series.

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Here is a screengrab showing the cartoon images of her pokemon.

Perhaps the most significant change was that of the “win state” condition in rule #4. Pokemon Go is designed for long term casual gameplay with an emphasis not just on collecting but also on “trading in” excess pokemon for candies in order to evolve pokemon of the same species. Since the game is designed to be played infinitely, there is no obvious win state unlike that of the original games. Dael identified this as the reason for not being able to control her pacing. As of episode five, released on 26 October 2016, “The current win condition for this prototype is to defeat 8 gyms of reasonable difficulty.” This is more similar to the win state found in the games, as the previous version relied on player XP, a feature that is not present in the games from which Nuzlocke was developed.

During her beta presentation, Dael mentioned some of the difficulties she’s had to overcome due to using the YouTube series to develop this rules:

  • her laptop crashed, making video editing impossible for two and a half weeks
  • the screencapture app on her phone for recording gameplay produced a few corrupt video files, effectively erasing whatever work she had done carrying out the ruleset
  • wind noise made footage unusable
  • quick turnaround once the PC was repaired meant she was unable to identify audio issues with some video files, diminishing the quality of subsequent episodes

Overall, these problems seemed to temporarily impair the public element of her digital artefact but didn’t stop her from playing GOlocke and further developing the ruleset. Dael managed to produce six episodes over the course of three months and she identified the YouTube comments as instrumental in the process, making the artefact dialogical and interactive for viewers. Rapid prototyping and iteration were essential in the development of the ruleset and are the only suggestions I have for further improvement.

Further iteration through continued gameplay and episodes will show how the ruleset continues to evolve to suit the conditions of the new mechanics. It’s a shame the Pokemon Go and Nuzlocke communities did not find it very engaging on Reddit. Community engagement outside of Dael’s YouTube channel community could offer different perspectives on the ruleset. As it stands, the artefact is fully functional in achieving its aim.

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